Automation Fair 2004: xCoupler modules demo new level of data connectivity

Simple, safe data communication among multiple plant-floor devices and various types of enterprise servers has never been more vital than today.


xCoupler enterprise transaction module installs in the packplane of Rockwell Automation/A-B ControlLogix PLCs. A DIN-rail mounted xCoupler Universal module (not shown) handles stand-alone applications.

Simple, safe data communication among multiple plant-floor devices and various types of enterprise servers has never been more vital than today. A new hardware/software approach to fulfill this key need was privately demonstrated by Online Development Inc . (OLDI) and ILS Technology LLC —joint developers of the technology—at Rockwell Automation ’s recently concluded Automation Fair in Orlando, FL. Named xCoupler, these "enterprise transaction modules" eliminate the need for a patchwork of complex multi-tier interfaces that use PCs and human-machine interfaces to bring proprietary machine and device data to corporate servers, says OLDI. xCoupler modules fit into the racks of major brands of PLCs, or mount on a DIN rail as part of a manufacturing/process data management system.

Several module types have been developed for popular enterprise server configurations. Programming of modules for devices such as PLCs, sensors, actuators, drives, bar code scanners, robots, and RFID controllers is simplified by a complementary WorkBench software tool that contains a drag-and-drop "configurator." No special programming skills or enterprise drivers are needed, according to the developers.

Ron Monday, president of OLDI, told Control Engineering , "The two-tier design of xCoupler integrates control professionals and IT users." It suits applications with legally critical data, and accommodates facilities that work with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s CFR Title 21, Part 11, procedures or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act accounting regulations, he explains. Another xCoupler system feature is its capability to segment data flowing from particular suppliers to users so that only appropriate parties share the data.

xCoupler modules also address security, virus, and data integrity issues associated with PC-operated multi-tier systems connected to the enterprise. "The xCoupler module’s operating system is virtually immune to security problems and virus attacks and provides exceptional data accuracy and timeliness," says Monday. "Plant-floor devices cannot affect operation of the xCoupler module and [its] operation cannot affect plant-floor devices."

Modules are now available for Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley ControlLogix PLC as well as a Universal Module that gathers data from multiple real-time sources. Enterprise communication interfaces offered include IBM WebSphere MQ and DB2, Oracle, Microsoft SQL, SMTP, and TCP/IP. Additional xCoupler modules are in the works for other brands of PLCs and enterprise interfaces.

—Frank J. Bartos, executive editor, Control Engineering,

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